Mazzi, Pollock on the year ahead; more technology in student’s hands
By LENNY C. LEPOLA
News Assistant Managing Editor
Big Walnut Local School District Superintendent Steve Mazzi said there’s always a lot of excitement that comes with a new school year. Students are happy about moving up a grade and even on to new buildings, teachers are rested and ready for another year in the classroom, maintenance and custodial staff have had the opportunity to update and renovate facilities and grounds over the summer months; but Mazzi said the most exciting aspect of entering the 2012–13 school year is having a survivable budget.
During to 2009-10 school year district staff at all levels had been reduced to bare bones, many elective course offerings had been cut from the curriculum, pay-to-play athletic fees were increased and the family cap was eliminated, art and physical education was taken away from elementary school students and the district’s music program was saved by a last-minute anonymous donation.
After two previous tries at the polls, voters finally approved a five-year, 7.5-mil emergency operating levy in November of 2010, allowing the school district to begin rebuilding during the 2011-12 school year.
“We’re going into the second year with our previous financial difficulties under control,” Mazzi said during a brief interview in his new office at Big Walnut Intermediate School on Baughman Street in Sunbury. “But we constantly watch our finances because we never know what the state will throw at us or what will happen to property tax. In every decision we make today we keep in mind what we’ve been through since March of 2009 and our struggle to get a levy passed.”
Mazzi said the bright side of the levy struggle has been the district’s renewed focus on the importance of fiscal responsibility to students, their parents and other members of the community.
“We’re leaner and we’re much more transparent because of the concerns voters expressed during the levy campaigns, and that tighter budget and increased transparency can only be a good thing for the district,” Mazzi said. “We always keep focused on our district goals — communications, facility and student population growth, and academic excellence — but while we do that we’re always looking for ways to be more fiscally responsible.”
Mazzi said moving the district’s administrative offices from the Galena Building to the Baughman Street intermediate school building is a perfect example of making a move that both better serves the district’s mission, and saves money.
The school district owns six school buildings, one bus facility and the mothballed Harrison Street building. Members of the board of education decided to close the Galena Building because of mounting maintenance costs to keep that aging structure habitable. With the move to the Baughman Street building nearly complete the Galena building will be auctioned off and the proceeds used for overdue capital improvements.
When asked about the cost of maintaining a multi-building campus spread around the community, Mazzi said upkeep never stops.
“It’s like the maintenance of a family home multiplied many times,” Mazzi said. “We have roofs to take care of, concrete and blacktop to maintain, HVAC systems. When we had budget problems a lot of that was let go; there were some things that deteriorated. Now we’re working to get back on track.
“Then you throw in that we have to mow our grounds in the summertime and plow our roads and parking lots in the winter — it’s like running a big business,” Mazzi continued. “Like any business with real estate assets we have to stay on top of a reasonable maintenance schedule or things deteriorate and cost more to replace or repair in the long run; and that’s part of being fiscally responsible after everything we’ve been through.”
District Director of Academic Achievement Angie Pollock is focused more on how finances impact academics. She said that even though the Ohio Department of Education will not release state report cards until late August, preliminary scores from the ODE show improvements over last year’s performance.
But the playing field is changing, Pollock said, with new math and English language arts standards common between the states, but coming down from the national level; while the other two standards — science and social studies — are transitioning into what are called Revised Ohio Academic Content Standards. The district is in the middle of a four-year transition to the new standards.
As the district transitions to the new standards, technology is also being upgraded. Pollock said the district wants students to become more proficient with the technologies they will need for online assessments that will soon be in place, and as their education continues at the college level and in the workforce.
“Technology has been upgraded district-wide, and we’ve added technology for students to use in all buildings,’ Pollock said. “We’re moving toward online assessments, so we’ve really tried to focus on technology being in students hands – more smart boards, tablet labs, WiFi in each building and cloud-based content so we can move towards the Bring Your Own Device concept.
“We’ve been able to use some of our bond money to purchase new literacy materials — reading and writing textbooks with student editions online so students will be able to access textbook material online from their home computers,” Pollock continued. “Our teachers had six different literacy days of training over the summer, so they’ll be very well prepared for the new textbooks and technology; and we’ll have additional technology sessions for teachers to integrate more appropriate use of technology into their teaching.”
Mazzi said technology purchases are another area where the district balances student need with fiscal responsibility.
“We’re keeping pace so our students have the technology in their hands to make them successful when they go on to the next stage of their education or out into the workforce,” Mazzi said. “But every decision we make we ask ourselves: Is this the fiscally responsible thing to do? We ask ourselves what can we do now, and what can’t we do, and what do we have to put off to do in the future. And while we’re answering all of those questions we keep our levy promise — to make the levy last five years — out in front.”